Money Hacks in a Time of Social Distancing

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Alright, guys.

The other day I promised I’d share my answers as I found them. That’s what I’m doing today.

If you’re struggling with money right now, as so many are, here are some new, relevant ideas on where you can get more money to get through this as best you can.

Emergency Bills and Social Media

Before we get started, note that there has been stuff moving through Congress that could help you right now. As of this writing, the stuff that has actually passed is a patchwork that leaves a lot of people out. But there is still more in the pipes. Stay up-to-date with this iHeartBudgets resource.

You can also look to social media. Individuals and companies are giving away money in their @s.

This is inspiring to see, and is helping a lot of people. It’s happened to my own family members, and for that I don’t know if I can express the well of gratitude that’s now permanently lodged in my heart. It’s gone a long way to restore my wavering faith in humanity.

It is not a replacement for the safety nets our society so desperately needs, though, and I’m not going to tell you to hang out on social media all day hoping someone will mention free cash.

But while you’re scrolling through your feed anyways, keeping an eye out doesn’t hurt. <3

File Your Taxes from Years Past

If you are low-income and have not filed income taxes for the past few years, one of the best ways to come up with a big chunk of cash is going to be to file your tax returns from the past three years — if you haven’t already.

Here’s the thing: I know so many people who don’t file because they know the amount taken out of their paycheck covers them.

They’re not going to owe money. And while they might want a refund, the anxiety of taking their finances to some stranger at H&R Block who is also their Kmart cashier — aging myself, I know — is just not worth the amount they think they will get back.

But here’s the other thing: When you’re low- to lower-middle-income, there are so many tax credits that can put money back in your pocket. We’re talking about thousands of dollars in some cases on a single credit.

And another thing: You have three years to file your return.

Depending on what you qualify for, you could potentially file a return that would provide you with months’ worth of income to cover basic expenses. And if you haven’t filed for multiple years, you could potentially multiply that over the course of several more months.

There’s also a potential you would get nothing back, depending on your life and employment circumstances over the past three years. I also don’t know how long it would currently take the IRS to deliver your refund.

But it’s one of the biggest potential wins I can think of. If you haven’t filed because you know you didn’t owe, file now because our government likely owes you.

Report Your Lack of Commute to Your Auto Insurer

Sometimes one of the best ways to free up some room in your budget is to cut your expenses. I’ve been keeping an eye out for new ways to do this in 2020 over the past few weeks, and came across a really good idea I hadn’t considered, likely because my own commute hasn’t changed aside from a few cancelled in-person networking events:

When you have to live close to the margin, you know that $21 can be the difference between making a bill or not. And what I loved about this tip was that not only will she save $21 this month, but she’ll be freeing up $21 more in April, May and every month until she returns to her regular commute.

It’s a small amount. But those small amounts add up.

UPDATE: My commute changed enough over time that I did this myself and saved $17/month!

That’s in addition to the blanket discount my insurer is issuing to all its customers. This discount is being applied because with less accidents on the road, there’s less claims for the insurer to pay out.

Make sure to call your insurer and ask about both types of discounts — lowering you mileage and any changes to their actuarial tables/claims payouts during this time!

Earn Free Gift Cards

There are always platforms like Swagbucks that help you earn points for free gift cards. You can then use these gift cards to shop at stores like Walmart where you’re probably already spending money.

The time-to-money ratio is no replacement for even a part-time job. But if you find yourself mindlessly playing cell phone games and scrolling through video feeds anyways, Swagbucks rewards you for it.

Call Your Lenders

Things are real right now. If you’re worried about priorities like keeping food on the table and a roof over your head, debt payments may have to be put on hold. Reluctantly. Out of pure necessity.

That does not make you an irresponsible person.

I’ve actually seen a lot of banks actively recognizing this. Some are even taking initiative and reaching out to some of their most vulnerable debtors to make sure this doesn’t send them into a tailspin from which they can’t recover.

I’m not here to tell you all the banks are suddenly looking out for your best interests with a pure heart, though. Many of them will make more money off of you over the long-term with these new arrangements.

But also you need to buy groceries today, and might not have income from a job anymore. Paying more over a longer period of time may be the only option.

If you find yourself in this situation, call up your lenders. See if you can restructure your debt or defer payments, and ask about the following before making any commitments to a new arrangement:

  • Will this extend my loan term? This might not necessarily be a deal breaker given everything you’re dealing with right now, but it’s still a good piece of information to know.
  • Will extra interest continue to accumulate, even if you’re telling me I don’t have to make my payment this month? At what rate?
  • Will this create a balloon payment at the end of my loan? How do I avoid that at all costs?
  • If you have a secured loan, like an auto loan, at what point do you have to worry about repossession? You’re obviously going to do everything you can to avoid getting to that point, but even the banks are acknowledging right now that this is not your fault. Ask all the questions so you can learn all your options and make the most informed decisions possible.

Take Advantage of Special Enrollment Periods

If you’ve lost your job and live in a Medicaid expansion state, losing your job qualifies you for a Special Enrollment Period. You can apply for Medicaid, regardless of the time of year.

Medicaid is free in most states, though premiums may be prorated or require copays in others.

This is much more beneficial than a COBRA plan that may or may not cover everything you need. COBRA can also cost you a ton out-of-pocket while you’re dealing with a serious cash flow situation.

If you live in a Medicaid expansion state, you can apply for Medicaid at Healthcare.gov.

During this time when domestic violence is more than likely to be on the rise, it’s also important for victims to know that leaving an abusive situation qualifies you for a Special Enrollment Period, as well. That does not remove the need to be extremely careful as you do so, and to create a 1:1 safety plan with an expert in the field before attempting to make any departure.

If you’re struggling with mental health during this time, maintaining or obtaining benefits will be important, too. Turn to sources like www.betterhelp.com for professional help, even while we’re still at home.

Have more tips on making or saving money during the pandemic?

If you have any new savings tips for this brave new world we’re living in, I’d love to hear them! Leave them in the comments, @ me on social media or shoot me an email. I’ll continue sharing what’s working for readers throughout the pandemic!

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2 thoughts on “Money Hacks in a Time of Social Distancing

  1. Pingback: Swagbucks Review: Strategize Your Way to Free Gift Cards | Femme Frugality

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